The Old Grocery Store
An elderly man shuffled up to an obviously very poor young girl with blond hair and blue eyes. She was dressed in an old hand-me-down, but she was clean and happy, humming a little song to herself.
He said, “Would you like to read a story?”
She nodded her head shyly as she answered, “Yes, thank you, I love to read.”
He handed her a simple book. She took it into her hands gently.
Out loud, she read, “The Old Grocery Store.”
She shook her head and asked, “What Old Grocery Store, Sir? There isn’t one around here.”
The old man smiled at her sadly, his eyes lowered, and responded, “There used to be.”
He raised his eyes to look at a very well-dressed older man as he swaggered by with a cigar and a pompous smile.
He said, “There used to be a grocery store right where the Dollar Tree is now.”
She said excitedly, “I like the Dollar Tree! I can get so many things! When I get a dollar and some change, I can spend a long time in there, just thinking about what I want to spend it on.”
He looked at her with a tear running down his cheek and said, “I know, little one, I know. What is your name?”
“Angel, cause Momma went to church to pray and asked God to give her a baby girl. So He sent me!” she responded. “I love to read. Can I keep it?”
“Yes, Angel, you may keep it. It is just an old man’s dream,” he answered as he turned and shuffled away.
She sat down on a bench in front of the Dollar Tree and began to read it. She did not stop till she had finished.
She smiled and thought, “That’s the way a book should end – happy.”
She got up and strolled home, thinking about the book.
When she got in her front door, she asked, “Momma, was there ever an Old Grocery Store where the Dollar Tree is now and a bathroom next to it, with no sign for ladies or gents? Why is it all gone?”
Her mother laughed and asked, “My goodness! Where did all those questions come from?”
Angel held the little book out to her, and she took it.
She looked at it and queried, “Where did you get this?”
Angel smiled as she thought of the old man and answered, “A very old man who shuffles. He doesn’t walk, ever, Momma.”
Her mother smiled back at her because she knew who it was, “That would be old Sam. He used to manage the grocery store for Mr. Bilks, who owned it. Then somebody advised Mr. Bilks that he could make more money on a Dollar Tree store. That ended it.”
“Is Mr. Bilks the older man with fancy clothes, struts like a peacock in the pictures I see, and smokes a big stinky cigar?” she asked.
“Yes, that would certainly be Mr. Bilks,” she answered.
“What about the bathroom without any signs? Who would know which one to use?” Angel asked.
“Well, everybody knew that the left one was for gentlemen and the right one was for ladies,” she responded.
“That sure seems strange to me,” Angel said as she turned to go into her room. “Signs are important.”
“May I read this book?” her mother inquired.
“Yes, of course. Old Sam said he wanted us to remember what it used to be like,” she answered.
Her mother sat down and read the little book as it took only a few minutes. She was crying when she finished it.
As luck would have it, her husband, Foster, came in just then.
Concerned when he saw her tears, he stopped in his tracks and asked, “Mary, why are you crying?”
She smiled at him and handed him the book, saying, “Read this. It will only take a few minutes.”
So he sat down and read it.
When he finished it, he smiled at Mary and said, “You old softy. You remember that Old Grocery Store as well as I do. We had our very first kiss in the back by the green beans!”
She laughed as he picked her up and whirled her around the room, stopping only to give her a big kiss before he set her down.
She asked, “Do you think we can do anything to bring that Old Grocery Store back? It was the center of this town, filled with camaraderie and laughter. The older men would play checkers out front before Mr. Bilks told them to stop loitering – that is was bad for business – and then he took away the table, chairs, and checkerboard. That is when he put the bench outside the window.”
He responded, “I do not know, Sweetheart. Mr. Bilks has the Town Council in his back pocket, and we both know that the dollar sign is the only thing that man is concerned about. After all, the whole town works for him in some way, as you know.”
“Yes, I agree, but it was so nice to be able to have the Old Grocery Store so close instead of driving several miles to the Wal-Mart in Kingsbury,” she stated.
Unbeknownst to either of them, Angel was standing at her doorway, listening to their conversation. She quietly closed her door and sat down, talking to Walter, her stuffed dog, that she held tightly.
“We have to do something about this, Walter. Now you know how I love to buy things in the Dollar Tree, but I don’t really need more stuff. I think that the Old Grocery Store is far more important, don’t you agree? I don’t know what I am going to do. After all, I am just a little girl. But I’m going to think about it!” she stated firmly.
Several days later, she smiled as she thought about an idea, “Why that just might work.”
She did not delay but asked her mother, “I have a dollar and some change. Can I go to the Dollar Tree, please?”
She answered, “Yes, you can. Just be home for supper, OK? You know your Dad likes us all to sit down together, pray before we eat, and talk about our day.”
Taking the little book with her, she marched out the door, intent on finding Mr. Bilks. She got to the bench in front of the Dollar Tree, sat down, and waited. Sure enough, after a while, she spotted Mr. Bilks coming. She waited until he was almost upon her.
She got up for the bench, stood grimly in front of him, and said, “Pardon me, Mr. Bilks, but would you sit with me on this bench and read this little book, please?”
He grimaced at her and asked, “Why would I want to do that?”
With persistence only the young have, she answered, “Because it is important. You need to know there are some things money cannot buy!”
He looked askance at her boldness and thought, “Why not? What can it hurt? This little urchin is obviously not going to leave me alone anyway.”
With a sigh, he sat down, took the book, and read it. He actually felt chagrin as he read it.
When he finished, he turned to the little girl and asked, “So, OK, I read it. Now what do you want from me? What is your name, anyway?”
“Angel,” she answered, smiling up at him. “You know you should bring back the Grocery Store, the table, chairs, and the checkerboard, don’t you? After all, you must have enough money by now after all these years. Besides, you look pretty old to me. You know you can’t take it with you, don’t you?” she stated adamantly.
“Well, you’ve given me something to think about,” he said as he gave her back the book and turned away.
That is exactly what he did for several days. He looked back at the past and all the decisions he had made to get more money. He looked at his bank statements and the fancy house filled to the brim with beautiful furniture, original paintings, fine china and glassware. He also knew he had never found a woman to share his life or give him children. In fact, he was alone except for the servants.
Finally, he came to a decision. He knew that Angel was Foster and Mary’s child and all the trouble they had because it was just a small town, after all. He looked at his watch and determined that the family would be gathering together for supper. He picked up his hat and headed for the local flower shop to pick up some flowers before he knocked on their door.
Foster came to the door and looked surprised when he saw Mr. Bilks standing there.
He said, “Hello, sir, would you like to come in?”
“No,” he responded. “I am fine here. But may I talk to Angel for a minute?”
Foster turned questioningly to Mary, who nervously nodded her head in anxiety, thinking, “Oh, my, what trouble is happening for us now?”
“Angel, please go speak with Mr. Bilks,” she said.
Angel, knowing she was in big trouble now, rose hesitantly. With her head down in shame, she came over to Mr. Bilks.
He put a finger under her chin and pulled her eyes up to meet his as he bent over.
He stated, “You do know why I am here, don’t you?”
With tears in her eyes, she nodded her head, and said, “Yes, Sir,” so softly almost no one could hear her. “I am in big trouble, aren’t I?” As an afterthought, hoping to divert some anger, she added, “I am so sorry.”
To her amazement, he laughed heartily. He took the flowers from behind his back and presented them to her.
Her mouth dropped open in surprise.
Startled, Foster and Mary exchanged glances, wondering what was going on. After all, Mr. Bilks was a powerful man who aroused fear.
Still laughing happily, Mr. Bilks said to Angel, “You know, my dear, no one would dare talk to me the way you did. In fact, I would not have let them! I have been very satisfied with my life and everything in it. That is, I was until you came along. ‘Out of the mouth of babes’ is what they say. Well, today, I believe it. You are absolutely right! There are so many things all my money cannot buy me! So I wanted to tell you personally, thank you. I am, indeed, going to bring back the Old Grocery Store, the table and chairs, and the checkerboard. When I do that, will you play me a game of checkers? It’s been a long time since I did that.”
Angel smiled as she reached up to give him a kiss on the cheek, answering, “Yes, sir, I will.”
She turned and beamed a big smile at her parents, who were amazed at what had just happened.
Mr. Bilks wiped away a tear as he spoke to them all, “Thank you for reminding an old fool like me what life should be like.”
He turned and started to walk away, but turned back, glanced at the simple meal on the table, and stated, “Oh, and by the way, Foster, you shouldn’t be surprised tomorrow when you come into work because I need a good foreman like you, and I will give you a paycheck to match. Anyone who could raise Angel to be the way she is deserves so much more from life. If you can keep a secret,” he said with a wink, “Angel is right. I can’t take it with me so I am going to give a pay increase to every person once the Old Grocery Store is back!”
With that, he turned and walked away, whistling, leaving consternation behind him.
Foster and Mary looked at Angel and asked simultaneously, “What in the world did you say to Mr. Bilks?”
Angel just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I just told him the truth: There are so many things money cannot buy, he must have made enough money by now, and he can’t take it with him cause he looks so old!”
Her parents looked at each other in wonderment.
Laughing together, they group hugged at the good news: the Old Grocery Store would be coming back!